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Risks of Abuse: High-Potency Marijuana and the Brain 

High Potency Marijuana

The results of another study have been released that demonstrate the damaging effects of marijuana use. This study, according to HealthDay, suggests that nerve fibers that conduct communication signals between the brain’s two hemispheres are damaged when high-potency marijuana is used.

The study used data taken from the MRI scans of almost 100 participants, including some participants who were diagnosed with psychosis, that showed that chronic use of marijuana with high levels of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, caused damage to the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum, or nerve fibers connecting the brain’s two hemispheres, has a high number of cannabinoid receptors and thus are highly susceptible to the damaging effects of marijuana use.

According to the study published in Psychological Medicine, the greater the amount of marijuana ingested by the user, the greater the damage to the corpus callosum. Additionally, other studies have demonstrated that there is an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders as a result of using high-potency marijuana.

How likely is it that these problems will strike you or someone you care about?

High-Potency Marijuana

In the past few decades, the THC levels of marijuana plants have risen significantly. Even in the past decade, the potency of marijuana has increased considerably. Growers have worked hard to combine and cultivate different strands to be more and more potent with the goal of increasing the effects of the drug. Additionally, there are even marijuana extracts available on the street with THC levels as high as 80 percent. High-potency marijuana is out there and available. With the legalization of the drug for medicinal and recreational use in more and more states, it’s not an issue that is going to go away on its own.

Dr. Paola Dazzan of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London was senior researcher on the study. Said Dazzan: “There is an urgent need to educate health professionals, the public and policymakers about the risks involved with cannabis use. As we have suggested previously, when assessing cannabis use it is extremely important to gather information on how often and what type of cannabis is being used. These details can help quantify the risk of mental health problems and increase awareness on the type of damage these substances can do to the brain.”

Legalization vs. Safety

Unfortunately, the prevailing opinion in many states is that marijuana is a harmless drug. Many do not believe that it is addictive. Others do not recognize that harm can come from frequent, high-potency, or early use of the substance.

The fact is, however, that marijuana use is associated with a number of public health issues, including:

  • Marijuana use disorders: The White House reports that an estimated 4.2 million Americans met the criteria for a diagnosis of marijuana abuse or addiction in 2011. Marijuana is the second most commonly cited drug of abuse among people seeking treatment for addiction.
  • Physical and mental health disorders: In addition to addiction, chronic marijuana use has been associated with increased risk for respiratory illnesses, psychiatric disorders, and cognitive impairment. Marijuana commonly contributes to medical emergency/ER admissions.
  • High potency: The White House estimates that the potency of marijuana has tripled in 20 years. This means that adults who used the drug in the 1960s and 1970s are remembering a far different drug and may be more likely to vote for legalization based on their memories of a much less potent substance. Additionally, this may contribute to earlier use of the drug among young people, which can increase rates of addiction.
  • Decreased cognitive ability: Studies show that regular use of marijuana can lead to decreased cognitive function over time – the more marijuana is used, the more damage to the person’s cognitive ability. One study found that chronic marijuana use among young people was linked to a loss of up to 8 IQ points later in life.

Intervention and Treatment 

The signs of abuse of marijuana and addiction are often very similar to those exhibited by people who are living with any substance use disorder. They may include:

  • Lying about frequency of use, amount of use, or current state of intoxication
  • Falling behind at work or failing to manage responsibilities at home effectively
  • Difficulties in relationships with people who do not use marijuana
  • Lack of attention to personal hygiene
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and goals that were once a major focus
  • Financial distress caused by ongoing drug use and abuse
  • Physical and/or mental health problems caused or worsened by marijuana use

Recognizing these signs early and taking action to connect the person with treatment services as soon as possible is key to long-term recovery. One way to move this process forward – especially if the person is uninterested in treatment – is to stage an intervention.

Essentially, an intervention is a formal request made to the person living with addiction to get the help necessary to stop using as soon as possible. It usually includes:

  • A planning meeting held in advance of the intervention so participants can determine how best to stage the event
  • Enrolling the person living with addiction in treatment prior to the intervention
  • Remaining nonjudgmental throughout the intervention
  • Asking the person to immediately leave for treatment – that very day
  • Making an assertion that clearly outlines how things will change if the person refuses treatment
  • Standing by that assertion if the person does not choose treatment
  • Supporting the person in recovery if treatment is chosen

Is marijuana a problem for someone you love? Don’t wait to broach the discussion of treatment.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Clinical Editor
The editorial staff of Desert Hope Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have... Read More